HR BLOG: How are your employees getting to work?

Pre-coronavirus, commuter woes typically included delays because of rush-hour, strikes or storms.

But ever since the UK’s recovery strategy asked people to stay at home in response to coronavirus, most people have not had to think about their commute for some time. Many have either been furloughed through the job retention scheme or set up for remote working.

Two and a half months later and society is slowly reopening. More businesses are now permitted to resume operations, subject to meeting COVID-secure guidelines. Additionally, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will support “part-time furlough” from July. This could facilitate a more flexible transition back to work for millions of people.

Those who cannot work from home have either been encouraged back to work, or been asked to prepare for a return in the near future.

But with social distancing still required to minimise the risk of infection from coronavirus, a new and different kind of delay is set to hamper the daily commute. As the sight of an overcrowded train carriage becomes a distant memory, socially distanced platforms and reduced services present new challenges for those making the journey to work.

Can employees commute using public transport?

The current advice, that employers may like to share with employees, is to avoid public transport wherever possible and adhere to social distancing. Commuters have been warned to prepare for delays, as services will run at much lower capacity.

Last Friday, this guidance was updated to advise that, face coverings must be worn at all times when using public transport, and that fines will be introduced for those who don’t comply. In Wales it is still a matter of personal choice.

Getting to work safely

Ultimately it is an employee’s responsibility to ensure that they can get to work safely and on time. But with the use of public transport being actively discouraged, it is a good idea to ask employees how they plan on getting to work. This can help you to prepare for being short-staffed, or absences if employees experience difficulties during their commute.

Some employees may also feel fearful about re-entering the public domain after so long in lockdown. It’s best to have open and honest discussions about this and share your health and safety at work risk assessment with them. If there is still a concern, about their commute in particular, the alternatives could be sick leave or continuation of furlough as the scheme is open until the end of October.

Alternative means of commuting

Although millions of people in the UK rely on public transport to get to work, many do choose an alternative mode of transport. Skateboarding, running, swimming, sailing and even a horse and cart have all been used as methods of commuting, and that’s just in the UK!

Of course, lots of people take up the option of driving. Walking and cycling, though, are cheaper, good for the environment and contribute to daily exercise. Walking or cycling to work can also help to boost mood and productivity.

Employers who would like to encourage staff to cycle to work can do so through the government’s Cycle to Work scheme.

Accessing the Cycle to Work scheme

The Cycle to Work scheme helps employers to support the option of cycling to work by making bikes readily available to employees. This is most commonly done through setting up a pre-tax salary sacrifice in exchange for bike hire. Alternative options include employer loans or a workplace pool cycle model.

There are some scheme conditions to be aware of. Employees must not “own” the cycle; at least 50% of use must be for a qualifying journey – such as commuting; and the offer of the scheme must be made available to all employees.

Employers may also want to think about the practicalities of cycling to work when introducing the scheme to their staff. For example, is there accessible and secure bike parking readily available?

The scheme is accessible to all employers and can be of huge benefit when bringing employees back to work. If you would like to know more, contact your local HR Dept today.